Let’s Tango – VoIP’s Emerging Mobile Model

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October 14, 2010

in iphone, Mobility, Skype + VoIP

So is Tango better than Apple’s FaceTime? On the face of it (haha) – today it is. Longer term the question is. Can Tango beat Apple Facetime? Then there’s the usual questions about how will Tango make money. Where’s Tango positioned vs the VoIP gorilla – Skype? etc.

So what is Tango? Tango is a Video Call client for iPhone and Android devices. It enables free video calling (or voice) between Android and Apple over WiFi and works over 3G networks if you aren’t worried by data caps.

I’ve now written extensively on VoIP approaches that simply adopt your “mobile number” or email address to enable calling (Tango doesn’t yet work on the latest iPod touch but I imagine it will in time). FaceTime is naturally well integrated with the address book on the iPhone. However, so far it is difficult to see who has Facetime (iPhone4 only) and is currently limited to WiFi which restricts it’s usability where spontaneity matters.

That’s where Tango bridges a gap. Download Tango. Enter your phone number. Tango then provides you with a contact list (based on your contacts) with whom you can Tango straight away. I had 8 when I first installed it. On the downside no-one I’m used to phoning or video calling was there. I invited my family. The benefit of this approach is when they add it… they will also find each other in their contact lists. Tango then goes about it’s business running in the background. Fact is – on the iPhone it just uses the notification server. You choose to accept or decline incoming calls which have a distinctive ring. This works well.

With apps like Tango it becomes easy to launch video calls quickly. “Daddy, should I buy this now?”, “This is where I am… look anywhere close to where I should be?”. “Oh you have to see this!” “Hey man, I’m at the football!”.

Today, Tango is a better FaceTime clone – although it doesn’t have to stay that way. It’s perhaps a short play. Will Google buy it and insert into Android or are they already close with their own FaceTime solution? Will Tango turn into a Keen like service? Will their million + downloads and current interest have any staying power? Will there be interest in opting in to other conversational spaces? What happens when Apple duplicates their feature set?

Tango today proves simplicity works. It demonstrates the power of tying a new mobile app to the two things we aren’t too concerned about sharing. 1) our phone number, and 2)our email address. After that you have your name. No need to invent new names or handles. Note you already had these contacts and the assumption is… they know you too. Today the risks of real privacy breaches are minimal. Over time that may become more complicated.

My test experiences worked fine over WiFi. Of course I can start on the feature improvements. Some are obvious. Eg Some context before the call. A favorite of mine. Then more ways to enhance the callerID experience. However, they all depend on Tango’s long term strategy. There are many ways to develop Tango over time. The challenge is to continue running faster than the incumbents, and provide the innovative edge that further redefines the conversation. Internally the conversation better be very agile. Not everything will work. Each update also has to cycle through the App store.

Today Tango can still be easily copied and likely will be. Yet what I like about Tango is… it’s not tied up in chat, presence indicators, or new buddylists. I like the potential for when a friend calls (old method) and you say “show me” you can instruct them in seconds and in less than five minutes reconnect and turn it into a video call (still need the right phone). That’s what Skype did for voice calls to expensive international destinations to begin. The dawn of mobile video is here. It won’t matter much if Tango is used once or many times. Potentially each time you use it… your available contact list will grow longer and larger. The notification system can always wake it up…

IMHO… the future is in connecting the conversations we don’t expect to have. Or enabling new conversations that we seek out. These are the one’s outside your current buddylist. Perhaps that’s where the TANGO name comes from. I see that as the real opportunity – add in the iTunes subscriptions and there’s a business model in this. Connecting calls in the gaps of time – by interest or location, etc.

In the title I suggested that Tango is VoIP’s emerging mobile model. That means too that it’s not a desktop model. Desktops don’t work in the gaps. Desktops work when we are focused on tasks. That’s why Skype multichats are so useful and calls can take a long time. The problem is… we don’t work all the time. VoIP was never meant to be tied to a PC. VoIP was just a method for empowering communications at a lower cost than the traditional incumbents were offering. Thus in a world where SMS is king, and “voice” is being averted – “video” offers new routes to communication. It’s refreshing to see investors putting a little money ($5 million) into a new VoIP play and taking a risk again on the future of communications. Well done!

Other reviews.

And somewhere Walt Mossberg talked about it on WSJ. No doubt that’s why the downloads.

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  • Fredrik Wengelin

    I share your confusion re the lack of a coherent Skype strategy for mobiles, so would love to try Tango, but the lack of text chat would be a hinder, as it is less invasive to at least start with a chat before voicing-up.

    Also cannot find it on Android market nor a download link that works!

  • Hi Fredrik, I totally concur with the “context” option particularly when related to strangers. Yet the initial experience are all likely to be with best buddies, partners, family members etc. That need for context disappears then. You can either take the call or you can’t. With the latest FaceTime announcment putting it on Mac I do see a day when “FaceTimeText” will really just be an SMS alternate. That’s good enough for context.

    I did find a Android link on their website although I’ve not tested with Android or iPhone to Android.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Sylvia Dietsch

    Can a person call on Tango from a mobile phone to a PC?

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